Frequently Asked Questions
How does China justify invading Tibet?
Other than politics and power the real reason China invaded Tibet is to control Tibet’s vast natural resources. The Tibetan plateau is the source of four of the world’s great rivers, as well as mineral deposits of copper, lead, zinc, uranium, chromium, lithium and much more. The name in China for Tibet translates to ‘Western Treasure House’ and the Chinese government has been raiding the treasure house for decades.
Despite claims by the Chinese government that they freed the people of Tibet from feudal serfdom (Source: Chinese Whitepaper, Tibet’s March towards Modernization 2004) – the occupation of Tibet was not a peaceful liberation.
The newly established Communist regime in China invaded Tibet, and with 40,000 Chinese troops in its country, the Tibetan government was forced to sign the “Seventeen Point Agreement.” Far from welcoming the Chinese as liberators, Tibetans across the country continued to resist China’s armed forces and China responded with widespread brutality. Resistance culminated on the 10th of March 1959, when 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Potala Palace to offer the Dalai Lama protection. This date is commemorated as National Uprising Day by Tibetans and supporters. Tibet under Chinese rule has experienced brutality on a massive scale – from the destruction of thousands of monasteries and the deaths of more than one million Tibetans in Mao’s era, to torture, arbitrary arrests and the denial of fundamental freedoms today.
To suggest that a people would gladly exchange their sovereignty for modernity is an absurd argument. There is no evidence that Tibetans were a deeply distressed people ‘under the yoke of feudal serfdom’. Prior to 1950 Tibet was governed by Tibetan people; there were no ‘imperialists’, it was a theocracy which means that there is no ‘separation from Church and state.’ Indeed the Dalai Lama was both the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet – meaning he was both the head of Tibetan religion and was also the political head of state.
However, since becoming a refugee the Dalai Lama has resigned from any political role and remains the spiritual leader of Tibet and the head of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetans in exile have developed a thriving democracy, as outlined and demonstrated in the 2021 elections.
It is only Tibetans in Tibet who are oppressed by a foreign entity – the People’s Republic of China. Today both Chinese and Tibetans inside Tibet live under totalitarian Chinese rule, while Tibetans who fled into exile have developed a thriving democratic form of government.
Is all criticism of China racist?
ATC is not criticising the people of China or people of Chinese ethnicity who live outside China.
Australia Tibet Council is raising the issue of serious human rights abuses resulting from the Chinese Government’s occupation of Tibet in1950.
The Chinese Government, as setup by the Chinese Communist Party, is our target. Since their illegal occupation of Tibet their policies have resulted in the oppression of Tibetans; countless human rights violations; the death of Tibetan people; destruction of Tibetan monasteries and attacks on Tibetan Buddhism; and the destruction of the environment and Tibet’s fragile eco-system.
ATC is not targeting the people of China – we are targeting the Government of China. ATC acknowledges that ordinary people of China are also victims of their Government. As China is run under authoritarian rule, no people – not Chinese people, Tibetan people, Uygurs or the people of Hong Kong – are able to speak freely or criticise the Chinese Government without risk of arrest and torture. Chinese democracy activists have been arrested and locked away as political prisoners.
The criticism of the Chinese Government is valid and much needed.
Racism towards Tibetans, Uygurs or people of Chinese descent here in Australia or anywhere is abhorrent and we will not tolerate racism at Australia Tibet Council.
But what about signs that say things like 'China out of Tibet?'
It can be hard to convey a complicated message on a sign or in a slogan. ATC is careful to use the word China as shorthand for the Chinese Communist Party, or Government of China. We also will not censure people from the Tibetan community who are angry and hurt by the Chinese Government and wish to express their feelings of protest at the ongoing occupation of Tibet by Chinese authorities.
Foreign governments and institutions should beware of China’s strategic use of hypersensitivity as a weapon of foreign policy. Often, the Chinese leadership will express its ‘hurt feelings’, as well as its outrage, at the slightest sign of foreign support for Tibet, even when the nature of the support is purely humanitarian. The Chinese Government often makes claims that statements supporting Tibetan human rights “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” Unfortunately, many politicians in the free world have gone out of their way to preemptively insulate China’s political leaders from any situation that might be mildly embarrassing for them during their foreign travels. In reality, Chinese leaders have intentionally cultivated this strategic hypersensitivity and are using it as a weapon to silence criticism and promote self-censorship on the part of democratic countries (Source linked above).
The Middle-Way Approach – what is it?
The Middle-Way Approach is proposed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet and to bring about stability and co-existence between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples based on equality and mutual cooperation. It is also a policy adopted democratically by the Central Tibetan Administration.
The Tibetan people do not accept the present status of Tibet under the People’s Republic of China. At the same time, under the Middle-Way proposal they would not seek independence for Tibet, even though Tibet was previously an independent country.
The Middle-Way approach is a policy to achieve a genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet (Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang) within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. The Middle-Way Approach is a non-partisan and moderate position that safeguards the vital interests of all concerned parties. or Tibetans: the protection and preservation of their culture, religion and national identity, and for the Chinese the security and territorial integrity of the “motherland”, and for China’s neighbours and other third parties: peaceful borders and international relations.
For more information see https://www.dalailama.com/messages/tibet/middle-way-approach
Can we still say 'Free Tibet'?
Of course. Australia Tibet Council can and does say Free Tibet. Free Tibet is not necessarily a statement about independence. ATC’s vision is a free Tibet in which Tibetans can determine their future, and freely pursue their religious practices and their political, cultural and economic development. Australia Tibet Council calls for Tibetan’s human rights and freedoms to be recognised and respected. We are inspired by the Tibetans who oppose China’s occupation of their homeland with courage, hope and tenacity and who resist abuses of their fundamental human rights and freedoms. ATC exists to support Tibetans in their quest for self-determination, including the rights to determine their own leadership (both religious and political leadership), have control over Tibet’s environment and resources, for Tibetans to decide the manner in which they will engage with China, and help restore freedom in Tibet. Amplifying Tibetan actions and voices is at the heart of all our campaigns.
What is ATC's objective?
ATC’s objective is to pursue the following charitable purposes:
(a) to work to achieve United Nations Resolution 1723 of 1961 which calls for “the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination”.
(b) to raise awareness of the situation in Tibet at all levels of Australian society, by encouraging government and community leaders to take positive action, and by supporting appropriate Australian and international initiatives.
What about Australia's human rights problems?
It is true that Australia has an imperfect record on human rights, with ongoing concerns around Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and Indigenous Australians. Most countries globally have an imperfect human rights record, may it be a history of colonialism, persecution of Indigenous peoples, persecution of religious or ethnic minorities. It is hard to find a nation without these problems either historically or currently.
However, an important difference is that as Australians we can raise our concerns about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, Aboriginal deaths in custody, or the destruction of Australia’s environment, with the Australian government through public protest or private appeals, via petitions or letter writing campaigns, or in person meetings with our local representatives. In doing so we won’t be risking our liberty or life. This is an important difference.
It is important to speak out for those who are arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed for simply exercising free speech in an authoritarian society.
In doing so you are in no way limiting your opportunity to criticise the Australian Government on their human rights record.
Is ATC concerned with Chinese influence in Australia?
Yes. ATC has spoken up on this issue on several occasions. See our 2017 report detailing how the increasing influence of the Chinese Government in Australia’s institutions, including Australian politics, is highly problematic and aims to silence criticism of China’s appalling human rights records.
ATC also participated in the 2020 Parliamentary Inquiry into Issues Facing Diaspora Communities in Australia. Read our submission here.
ATC also is currently campaigning against the operation of Confucius Institutes on the campuses of Australian Universities as they are shown to have silenced human rights discussion. ATC was hurt and alarmed when Sydney University acted to try to cancel a proposed talk by the Dalai Lama at the Seymour Centre in 2013. There are concerns about the influence on human rights scholarship and around the nature of academic debate on human rights if topics deemed sensitive by China are off limits, such as discussion of Tibet
Is ATC working with other groups such as the Uyghurs and people from Hong Kong?
Where possible we collaborate and work together with our friends in the Uyghur community, the Hong Kong Community and with Chinese human rights activists.
These campaigns and actions of solidarity with Uyghurs, Hong Kongers and others in China facing oppression are important to highlight the expansive human rights problems perpetrated by the Chinese Government.
Is ATC concerned about China in areas outside of Australia?
Yes, like most Australians we are concerned with the aggression shown by the Chinese Government in the South China Sea against the nations of Vietnam, Philippines and others. We are also concerned about Chinese border aggression in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
China’s expansionism in projects on the African continent, the Pacific and via the Belt and Road initiative are concerning and Australia Tibet Council feels the world should heed the tragedy of Tibet before selling off ports and other vital national infrastructure to the Chinese Government.
Why should I support Tibet? There are so many issues in the world, such as climate change, refugees, habitat loss, etc.
There are many issues of concern in the world. It can be overwhelming and passionate, caring people often find it impossible to ‘choose’ a single area of concern.
Many of our members are also actively involved in other issues including racism, sex and gender discrimination, indigenous rights, climate change and habitat loss and animal extinction here in Australia and around the world.
The Tibetan issue is not only an issue of human rights it is also about important issues of;
· Combating religious repression and struggling for religious freedoms
· Combating forced labour and the attack on culture and language
Tibet is one of the most important issues of our lifetime, with this David and Goliath struggle of a small non-violent nation struggling against one of the largest and most powerful nations of our modern age. The victory of the Tibetan movement would be a victory for the power of non-violent struggle.
“In our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.” – The Dalai Lama
What does ATC do?
We build people power.
Our work is made possible by our members and supporters who believe in our work. We empower our community to take action for Tibet. We collaborate with diverse stakeholders for maximum impact.